As the generation of the sons of the founder of Saudi Arabia move through their 80s, and the grandsons' generation greys and whitens, it is hardly surprising that the older generation are going at an accelerated pace. The death of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef over the weekend followed months of speculation about his declining health. It also means that King ‘Abdullah, at 88, has lost two Crown Princes in eight months, Prince Sultan last October and now Nayef.
It also means that the rules of Middle East punditry require that everyone talk at length about the question of when the next generation will reach the throne (quick answer: not just yet) and who will be the new Crown Prince (quick answer: Prince Salman, who moved from Governor of Riyadh to Defense Minister when Sultan died, and who's the last of the full Sudeiri brothers). But the fact is the House of Saud, after some rough starts back in the fifties and sixties, long ago figured out how to weather succession crises and keep the family business on a steady keel. So consider this the limit of my contribution to the punditry. My colleague Tom Lippman, who actually knows the Kingdom well, may contribute something at MEI or the Council on Foreign Relations and you should read it if (when) he does, but this will have to serve as my lip service to the required punditry on the Saudi succession. [UPDATE: And here's Tom now.] I'm still busy trying to figure out what the Egyptian returns mean and will be back later with my best guess.
UPDATE II: And Prince Salman gets the job as expected. "No surprises" could be the Kingdom's motto.